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Blogs under tag Craig Venter

Craig Venter's methods Posted by Shankar on Tue September 07 2010 05:15:35 AM 9

I just read a Newyork times article and I thought why shouldnt you guys also take a look at it.Its about Dr Craig Venter, of SGI and am sure all of you want to hear more about the progress made by him for Exxon Mobil.This article is more about him.
Dr. Venter, now 63, made his name as a gene hunter. He was co-founder of a company, Celera Genomics, that nearly left the federally funded Human Genome Project in the dust in the race to determine the complete sequence of DNA in human chromosomes.
 He garnered admiration for some path-breaking ideas but also the enmity of some scientific rivals who viewed him as a publicity seeker who was polluting a scientific endeavor with commercialism.


Now Dr. Venter is turning from reading the genetic code to an even more audacious goal: writing it. At Synthetic Genomics, he wants to create living creatures ? bacteria, algae or even plants ? that are designed from the DNA up to carry out industrial tasks and displace the fuels and chemicals that are now made from fossil fuels.

'Designing and building synthetic cells will be the basis of a new industrial revolution,' Dr. Venter says. The goal is to replace the entire petrochemical industry.

His star power has attracted $110 million in investment so far, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in research financing, making Synthetic Genomics among the wealthiest companies in the new field known as synthetic biology.


 'If you think of an iconic, Steve Jobs character in the life sciences field, he comes to mind,' says Steve Jurvetson of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which invested in Synthetic Genomics.




But the path is long, with no guarantee of success. And as with DNA sequencing, Dr. Venter is stirring some unease in the synthetic biology field. Some competitors say designing entire cells is too far-fetched and that less flashy companies are ahead of Synthetic Genomics.

'I don?t know how many decades his funders have given him,' says Jay Keasling, co-founder of Amyris Inc., which is trying to produce biofuels and a malaria drug by modifying existing organisms, not by creating entirely new ones.

Moreover, Dr. Venter's track record as a businessman is mixed. While Celera succeeded in sequencing the human genome, it failed to make a business of selling the genomic data, and Dr. Venter was fired by the president of Celera?s parent company, with whom he had had many disagreements.

What really drives him, Dr. Venter and those close to him say, is the desire for scientific accomplishments, publications and recognition, and for the Nobel Prize that still eludes him. Business is just a means to a scientific end.

'Craig is just a hopeless businessman,' Alan G. Walton, a venture capitalist and a friend of Dr. Venter, says only half-jokingly.

Yet Dr. Venter has a history of defying skeptics, and many people are betting that he will succeed this time as well. Dr. Walton, in fact, invested personally in Synthetic Genomics, and his venture firm, Oxford Bioscience Partners, recently wanted to sink a hefty sum into the company but was turned down when Dr. Venter found other investors offering better terms.

Exxon Mobil is giving Synthetic Genomics $300 million in research financing to design algae that could be used to produce gasoline and diesel fuel. (The new greenhouse will be used for that research.)

BP has invested in the company itself, turning to Synthetic Genomics to study microbes that might help turn coal deposits into cleaner-burning natural gas. Another investor, the Malaysian conglomerate Genting, wants to improve oil output from its palm tree plantations, working toward what its chief executive calls a  gasoline tree.

And in a deal expected to be announced this week, the pharmaceutical giant Novartis will work with Dr. Venter to synthesize influenza virus strains as a potentially faster way to make flu vaccines.

Synthetic Genomics is also exploring the use of algae to produce food oils and, possibly, other edible products.

Dr. Venter muses, "What if we can make algae taste like beef?"

SCIENTISTS have long been able to insert foreign genes into organisms. Human insulin is manufactured for diabetics by bacteria containing the human insulin gene. Bacterial genes are put into corn plants to give them resistance to herbicides and insects.

But until now, genetic engineering has been mainly a process of cutting and pasting a gene from one organism to another. Only one or a few genes are spliced into a cell, and considerable trial and error is required before a gene functions properly in its new host.

Synthetic biology aims to allow more extensive changes, and in a more efficient and predictable way. That would make engineering a cell more like designing a bridge or a computer chip, enabling biologists to put prefabricated components together in different combinations.